Tetrahedral amorphous carbon (ta-C) films have been grown on Ar+-beam-cleaned silicon substrates by changing the incident angle of energetic carbon ions produced in the plasma of pulsed cathodic vacuum arc discharge. Their surface roughness, deposition rate, composition, and mechanical and frictional properties as a function of the incident angle of energetic carbon ions were reported. The substrate holder can be rotated, and so an angle of deposition was defined as the angle of ion flux with respect to the substrate surface. While the deposition angle is varied from 20° to 59°, the root-mean-square (rms) roughness decreases from 0.5 to 0.1 nm, then it turns to increase at a slow rate when the deposition angle is over 77°. The variation correlates well with the one of hardness with the deposition angle and the films with lower rms roughness exhibit the higher hardness. The soft graphite-like surface layers existing at the surfaces of these films were revealed by atomic force microscopy-based nanowear tests and their thickness increases from 0.35 to 2.9 nm with the deposition angle decreasing from 90° to 30°. The soft surface layer thickness can have a great effect on the sp3 contents measured by x-ray photoelectron spectra. Nanoscale friction coefficient measurements were performed from lateral force microscopy by using a V-shaped Si3N4 cantilever. The low friction coefficients (0.076–0.093) of ta-C films can be attributed to their graphite-like surface structure. The implications of these results on the mechanisms proposed for the film formation were discussed. © 2003 American Vacuum Society.